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College Papers: How to Get an A

There are many ways college degree seekers can better their chances of getting an A on a paper. Here are 50 ways to improve your chances of aceing your next writing assignment:

  • Start EARLY. Don’t procrastinate. Start brainstorming your topic ideas. Write down several ideas because while you research, you may discover that some ideas will not come to fruition. You want to be able to identify which topic area will work best before it is too late to compile the appropriate resources.
  • Check and double-check that your topic is in the realm of the assignment instructions. If you have concerns, check with your instructor. You do not want to put hours into developing a topic that does not meet the criteria requested by your instructor.
  • Create a plan. Set dates for when you’ll need to complete certain tasks. Your instructor may have deadlines for certain parts of your paper. For example, you may need to complete a rough draft or annotated bibliography.
  • Utilize online resources that can help you create a schedule and keep you on task. I recommend the Research Project Calculator and the Assignment Calculator.

    Enter in the required details about your assignment. The due date is the most essential part. Then, click Calculate Project Schedule. Below you can see that the Research Project Calculator gives recommendations on when you should accomplish each task that goes into writing a research paper (circled in green). You can even sign up for email reminders (squared in red). Here is a great list of other online assignment calculators that you can utilize.

  • Create an outline. Use bullets, numbers, letters, roman numerals, or whatever you need to organize your information. Do the instructions indicate how many different sources you will need? Many assignment instructions will demand a number of sources that will need to be consulted for your paper.
  • Be aware of the restrictions on type/medium of resources. Do the instructions indicate which type of resources you will need to utilize? Are websites restricted?
  • Do the instructions indicate that your textbook cannot be used as one of your sources? This is common. You may be able to use your text book, but you may be restricted from using it as one of your required minimum number of sources.
  • Are there restrictions on quality of resources? Does your paper require scholarly or peer reviewed sources? Scholarly/Peer Reviewed sources are sources that are reviewed by scholars in the field. It is a review process that assures quality and credible authority in authorship of information. When searching in library databases, it is usually a search option to check a box indicating all search results will be scholarly/peer reviewed (squared in blue below).
  • Are there requirements to include primary sources? Recognize the differences between primary and secondary documents.
  • Where are you going to find your sources? Library databases? NetLibrary ebooks? Physical library books that are indexed in the library catalog? Websites?
  • If searching for websites, be sure to use evaluation skills. Is the website up to date, credible, authoritative? Who is the author? Do they have credentials? Is it a blog, article, general website?
  • Analyze the website extension of each website: .edu = education, .org = organization (but there is no approval process for .org), .gov = only government approved websites, .com = commercial, and several nations have their own extension like .uk = United Kingdom and .au = Australia.
  • Wikipedia is NOT an acceptable source for a research paper. Anyone can edit Wikipedia. The content in Wikipedia is constantly being updated and corrected (we can only hope), and therefore, if you use information listed in Wikipedia, the content could disappear or be altered by the time that you submit your research paper. You want stable and accurate information in a research paper.
  • DO use Wikipedia as a starting point for gathering information.  Wikipedia can give you an outline or timeline on a topic. It can give you excellent ideas to brainstorm and consider writing about. Another fantastic way to use Wikipedia is by using the references listed at the bottom of most entries. Follow these links if they are credible websites or articles.
  • Which keywords will you use? Keyword searching is very trial and error. If you are not getting results for certain keywords, try synonyms. For example, if your research paper is on the death penalty, you could also search for capital punishment. You may want to try both.
  • For assistance with choosing synonyms use a thesaurus, dictionary, or several web resources like Visuwords, a graphical dictionary.
  • When conducting research, there are certain tricks to use in internet search engines, library catalogs, and databases. Using an asterisk at the end of a word will capture all forms of a word. For example, if you use text*, this will gather results for text, texts, and texting.
  • Put quotation marks around phrases. If you search for “death penalty,” this will only pull results with these 2 words together in this order.
  • Decipher if your search is too broad. Is “death penalty” gathering millions of results? Try using a Boolean search (and/or/not). Click on Advanced Search to get this option (circled in pink). Are you actually writing specifically on death penalty statistics in Texas? If so, add this as another keyword.
  • Keep track of all of the data that you gather. When you print an Internet website, the printout will usually include the webpage title, author, URL, date the page was made or updated, and the date that you accessed the page. If you print a page from an ebook, the page will usually not include the copyright date that you will need. Be sure to jot down this data when gathering information from books or ebooks. In printed books, this data is usually included in the copyright page.
  • Do you have enough resources to begin writing your paper? If you do not, contact your librarian by email.
  • Contact your librarian by the Ask-a-librarian form on the student portal (circled in yellow).
  • Instant Message your librarians! Add us to your buddy list.



Yahoo: Rascollib

AIM: Rascollib

  • If you have a lot of time before your paper is due, set up a Google Alert. Any new website or article on your topic (designated by keywords) will be sent to you by email. Stay current on your topic.
  • Some databases allow you to set up an RSS feed for certain keywords. Then, when a new article is added to the database, it will infiltrate to your RSS feed.
  • Format your title page. Yes, there are rules to how to format your title page. At Rasmussen, we use APA formatting for every class. An APA Sample Paper including a title page guide is located on the student portal under >Library Resources >APA Citation Help.
  • Time to start drafting your paper! Do you have a “hook” that will capture the attention of your audience?
  • Write your thesis sentence and include it in your introduction. Make sure that you are not deviating from your thesis in your paper.
  • Be aware of what TYPE of paper you are writing. Some options include expository, descriptive, narrative, and argumentative.
  • Write with a clear purpose. What are you trying to convey to your audience?
  • As you begin writing, be aware of your audience. Who is your audience? Your instructor? Your class? Your entire field of study?
  • Use Times New Roman, Size 12. You are not fooling anyone by using a large font or text size. Your instructor will know if you do not have the required page length, content, etc.
  • Do not plagiarize. Do not even think about it. Read the Academic Honesty Policy in each syllabus. Write with your own integrated voice.
  • Do not purchase a paper from an online paper mill. That is cheating. You will face consequences.
  • If you use quotations within your paper, be sure that they are supplemental to the content of your paper and well supported by your intuitive information and/or paraphrasing and summarizing.
  • With APA format in-text citations, list the page number where you found a quote. Page numbers are not needed for paraphrasing/summarizing. When there are no page numbers (brochures, websites, etc.), ignore this rule.
  • For assistance in citing sources, use our APA guides available on the Library Resources homepage at APA Citation Help.
  • Use Noodlebib. This is a subscription based service. Rasmussen owns a subscription for all students. Follow this student user guide to use this service. Noodlebib helps with in-text citations as well as formatting your reference page.
  • Try the Facebook Cite Me Application. This free service allows you to search for reference page citations by ISBN, author, subject, or keyword. It is pretty slick. This feature only works for books.
  • Try the KnightCite free citation website. Be sure to select APA. Then, enter in the criteria for your resource. They will provide the citation. Be sure to remember the APA capitalization rules for titles.
  • If you are citing government documents, ASU has a great free service called DocsCite.
  • Abide by all APA formatting rules. 1” margins, 1/2“ tabs, double spaced, etc.
  • The reference page needs to be double spaced. Sources need to be listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Don’t forget about hanging indents.
  • If you copy/paste citations from programs like Noodlebib, Facebook, or KnightCite be sure to change the font to match the body of your paper.
  • When you are done drafting your paper, have a fresh set of eyes proofread it. Contact a Learning Center at a Rasmussen campus.
  • Submit your paper to Smarthinking! Rasmussen subscribes to this awesome service. They will review your paper in 24 hours. The login is your Rasmussen email address. The password is “tutor.” This is an really cool service to utilize.
  • What is the page number requirement? You will probably lose points if you do not meet the page number requirement. If you do not have enough content to put in your paper, find some. Putting unnecessary line spaces between paragraphs and increasing font and text sizes is not wise. See tip #33.
  • Have an expert review your paper for APA citation and plagiarism concerns. That would be your librarian.
  • Last but not least, turn in your paper by the due date. Do not do anything to jeopardize your credibility, like intentionally corrupt your paper. That would be really lame.

Amy Springer

Amy Springer grew up in rural Wisconsin. After graduating high school, she attended Gustavus Adolphus College where she was a history major with a minor in philosophy. Later, she attended the College of St. Catherine/Dominican University for her Master's in Library and Information Science. While she was in graduate school, she worked as a Circulation Assistant at William Mitchell College of Law. After graduating with an M.L.I.S., she accepted a position as a Reference and Instruction librarian at Rasmussen College in 2007. She serves on the Diversity Committee, and is the liaison to the Paralegal and Criminal Justice programs.

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